President Joe Biden on Tuesday, March 30, nominated five accomplished Blacks to judicial seats in federal court. They represent half of the 10 people nominated to the positions.
One of Biden’s nominees, Attorney Tiffany Cunningham, is a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP in Chicago and was tapped for a judicial seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Another nominee, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, is a former federal public defender who was nominated to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago.
The other nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom Black leaders in 2016 urged President Barack Obama to nominate for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace the late Antonin Scalia, was tapped to serve for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In 2016 Obama instead nominated Merrick Garland, who was not confirmed, after the Republican Senate refused to review his nomination in Obama’s final term in office.
The other two Black nominees are Judge Lydia Griggsby, who made history as the first Black judicial nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and Morehouse graduate Julien Neals, who was nominated to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey.
The nominees are part of Biden’s push to diversify the judicial seats in the nation’s federal courts after former President Donald Trump picked mostly white males to serve on the bench. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised that he would nominate a Black woman to fill his first Supreme Court vacancy.
The judicial nominees must be approved by a majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
In a statement, Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that lack of diversity in his statement.
“I am particularly heartened by the nomination of Candace Jackson-Akiwumi to an Illinois seat on the Seventh Circuit. As a former federal public defender, Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi brings with her an important perspective that is a valuable asset to the judiciary. Once confirmed, Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi will bring much-needed demographic diversity back to the Seventh Circuit, which currently has no African American judges,” Durbin said.
The Seventh Circuit was left without a Black judge after Ann Claire Williams retired in 2018. If confirmed Jackson-Akiwumi would be the second Black to serve on the Seventh Circuit.
In a statement, Biden emphasized diversity in his nominations for lifetime appointments.
“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession. Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong,” he said.
White House officials said the first group of judicial nominees are lawyers “who have excelled in the legal field in a wide range of positions, including as renowned jurists, public defenders, prosecutors, in the private sector, in the military and as public servants at all levels of government.”
White House officials say Biden’s initial picks are “groundbreaking nominees,” including three African American women chosen for Circuit Court vacancies, as well as candidates who, if confirmed, would be the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, the first AAPI woman to ever serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C., and the first woman of color to ever serve as a federal judge for the District of Maryland.”
A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, Jackson-Akiwumi, 41, is a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Washington where she handles complex civil litigation, white collar criminal defense and investigations.
Jackson-Akiwumi began her legal career as a law clerk for now retired U.S. District Court Judge David Coar from 2005 to 2006. She then worked as a litigation associate at the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom from 2007 to 2010.
She later served as federal public defender in Chicago in the Northern District of Illinois from 2010 to 2020. As a federal public defender, Jackson-Akiwumi represented more than 400 indigent clients accused of federal crimes, according to the White House.
According to her a biography posted on Yale Law School’s website, Jackson-Akiwumi said as a public defender, “I work harder and longer hours than I did as a law firm associate. But I do not mind the harder work, longer hours and lower pay because my job has meaning to me. I provide quality representation to people who would not be able to afford it, and I am there for clients at a most dreary and frightening juncture: when they are being judged for the worst day or days in their life.”
A Harvard Law School graduate and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of M.I.T., Cunningham is partner at Chicago’s Perkins Coie law firm. She handles trial and appellate cases for large multinational companies and cases involving complex patent and trade secret disputes. She previously served as partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where she joined as an associate in 2002.
Brown Jackson, who was tapped to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University and cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. Brown Jackson has served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2013. Prior to joining the federal bench, Judge Brown Jackson served as a Vice Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission beginning in 2010.
Brown Jackson began her legal career as a law clerk for Judge Patti Saris on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts from 1996 to 1997 and then for Judge Bruce Selya on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1997 to 1998.
She was an associate at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin LLP from 1998 to 1999. She clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1999 to 2000. Judge Brown Jackson was an associate at Goodwin Proctor LLP in Boston, Massachusetts, from 2000 to 2002 and an associate at Feinberg Rozen, LLP (formerly The Feinberg Group, LLP) in Washington, D.C., from 2002 to 2003.
From 2003 to 2005, Judge Brown Jackson served as an Assistant Special Counsel for the United States Sentencing Commission, and from 2005 to 2007, Judge Brown Jackson served as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2010, Judge Brown Jackson was of counsel at Morrison & Foerster LLP where her practice focused on criminal and civil appellate litigation in both state and federal courts, as well as cases in the Supreme Court.